Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gridrunner Revolution Review

Gridrunner Revolution, developed and published by Llamasoft.
The Good: Certifiably insane, distinctively weird visuals and audio, intuitive mouse-driven controls with auto-fire, multiple ships to quickly switch between, nifty use of gravity, includes original 80's versions
The Not So Good: Often (but not always) incomprehensibly chaotic, fast rotation speed makes it easy to “cheat,” indiscernible level variety, lacks multiplayer and online scoreboards
What say you? This frantic and unique arcade game is quite enjoyable: 6/8

A majority of arcade games of the 70’s and 80’s involved shooting things. Why? Because people are inherently violent, that’s why. Plus, something has to be done with the incoming space invaders/centipedes/asteroids/tanks. What are you going to do, talk to them? Centipedes can’t talk! No, it is best to shoot first and ask questions later, questions such as “what does this rambling introduction have to do with Gridrunner Revolution?” Beats me, I’m just trying to fill space to make the review longer (shhh! trade secret!). This is a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to the original Gridrunner, which came out for a couple of the Commodore systems way back in the Silurian period. Let’s shoot some scorpions and save some sheep, shall we?

Like most of Llamasoft’s products, Gridrunner Revolution hits hard with the psychedelic stick. The game is overloaded with neon-colored effects, from the enemies to the bullets: it’s a chaos of stuff. You can play the game using Shader 2.0 or 3.0 settings, although I did not notice a huge difference other than a slight increase in load times. This is one of those games that looks really confusing because it is, and I think that is on purpose. It’s also distinctive, thanks to those chaotic graphics. The sound is equally strange: you will be inundated with “sheepie,” “attention!,” and “oops…loooooser” while playing, among other unique words and phrases. The techno music, along with the backgrounds, can be adjusted using the jukebox to suit your mood. The disorder actually fits the game well, to be honest, and makes for a particularly uncommon experience.

Gridrunner Revolution is an arcade shooter that takes over two hundred levels separated amongst four levels of difficulty, which are obviously named for types of curry. Each level takes about a minute to complete, which, for the level of insanity the game exhibits, is just right. There isn’t really any difference between level 1 and level 200 other than the amount of enemies and obstacles present, and specific levels certainly do not have any individuality or distinct features that make you say, “oh, yeah, that’s level 47!” Eventually, you will unlock additional gameplay modes, such as the original Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64 versions of Gridrunner, an endurance mode that limits you to just one life, and a thrust mode that uses point-and-click for movement. Gridrunner Revolution does not have any multiplayer features: neither competitive nor cooperative modes (which would be interesting) or online scoreboards to see how you stack up against the competition (a seemingly important contemporary feature for any arcade shooter that keeps score) are contained herein. Maybe for Gridrunner Revolution+.

Your primary objective in Gridrunner Revolution is to collect sheep. Obviously. Along the way, you’ll need to shoot enemies so that you do not die. Dying is bad. Obviously. Mouse control is preferred, although you can also use the keyboard or a gamepad; I find moving around the levels is quite a bit easier using the trusty mouse. Other than simply moving, you can rotate your ship (done with the mouse buttons) and select different ship types (mouse wheel). Thankfully, your ship will always fire, so there is no tedious hold-down-the-fire-button in Gridrunner Revolution. The game has a shrewd and subtle use of gravity, where your shots are curved around stars that are placed on the map. More curving equals more points for those striving for higher scores (and who isn’t?), so landing exotic shots is encouraged. You can also shoot stars to earn a bonus ship type once they morph into a black hole. The earth scientist in me would like to point out that yellow and orange stars lack the mass to actually turn into black holes, but if you are turning towards Gridrunner Revolution for scientific accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place. The handful (six or so) ship types in the game are varied in their gun location, bullet velocity, bullet power, and mass (how the shots are affected by gravity). There are also additional differences if you are playing in the thrust mode. I must admit that the differences are very, very subtle and most people won’t even notice a change, to be quite honest.

Gridrunner Revolution comes with a lot of enemies, most of which look quite weird; they can follow set patterns or move towards you. The AI isn’t “smart,” but it doesn’t have to be, because the game, like pretty much any arcade shooter, throws a whole bunch of them at you at once, and that’s where the difficulty comes from. There are strategies to successfully deal with specific enemy types that you will learn along the way, though. Death is an interesting process: once you are inadvertently hit, you will descend the screen towards the bottom, but you can bounce on enemies to keep yourself in purgatory and attempt to hit a sheep on the way down to become resurrected. It’s a really cool mini-game dynamic to keep yourself alive, and you’ll get to do it a lot, since death is fairly common in Gridrunner Revolution. While the game is appropriately difficult, it can be easy to do what I consider to be cheating: you can just constantly rotate, thus shooting in all directions are killing all comers. As long as you avoid the environmental hazards, the rotation speed is high enough where this is a viable (and cheap) strategy. Of course, you can simply just play Gridrunner Revolution the “right” way (especially true since the game lacks multiplayer or online scoreboards), but it’s still a slight balance issue I’d like to see fixed, such as having to recharge rotation fuel, or something.

A number of things make Gridrunner Revolution stand out against the typical arcade shooter: the distinctive graphics and sound, bouncing off enemies to avoid dying, switching ship types, and the exaggerated use of sheep. The features are nice: two hundred levels of hot, shooting action (though it’s difficult to tell the difference between them), in addition to an alternative control method (the thrust mode), an endurance mode, and the original Commodore versions. The mouse-based controls are smooth and easy to use, from moving your ship to rotating it. The fact that your ship constantly shoots is a great feature that greatly decreases tedium. The game also allows you to quickly switch between ship types; while the differences are quite subtle (I had to contact the developer to figure out for sure what they were), there are some changes in firing rate, shot power, and bullet speed that can affect your strategy a little. Collecting sheep for more turrets and scoring bonuses is nice, and saving yourself from death by bouncing on enemy units and steering towards a falling sheep is a unique and interesting gameplay mechanic. Gridrunner Revolution does suffer from confusion due to sensory overload (although not to the same degree as Space Giraffe): it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the heck is going on. In addition, you can “cheat” by constantly rotating your ship: that’s a somewhat significant balance issue. The lack of online leaderboards means you are only cheating yourself, so I suppose it’s ultimately not that big of a deal. Gridrunner Revolution is actually pretty different from Gridrunner++ (I downloaded the demo), although it uses some of the same sound effects, and doesn’t suffer from sequel syndrome. The graphics and sound are trippy, and although they can negatively impact the gameplay, they do make for a distinctive look and feel. Fans of arcade shooters will find an approachable and unique game made so by several distinctive features.